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Title Searches

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern

Before buying land, it’s wise to have a title search made. A specialized company researches the history of that parcel of land to make sure that no others have valid claims on it.

A title search report in New York City may chronicle purchases, trades, and bequests going back to an old Dutch farm in New Amsterdam. Now, from where did that Dutch title come?

In 1626, Peter Minuet, director general of the Dutch province of New Netherland, purchased Manhattan Island from local Indians. Did the Indians have title to the island? Did they even think of ownership of land as the Europeans? Probably they thought in terms of using the land, not owning it.

We are governed by laws. But, if you go back far enough, at some point people acquired land without legal title. Perhaps the land was vacant, and they began to use and hold it. Perhaps they seized it from somebody else who was there first!

Many contemporary controversies concern land titles. Unfortunately, the news media usually aren’t much interested in title searches.

Take Kuwait, for example. In the early 18th century, members of the Anaiza tribe migrated to the area from central Arabia. In 1756 they appointed a member of their as-Sabah clan to act as administrator of their affairs.

Technically, Kuwait was part of the Ottoman Empire, although the Turks treated it as an autonomous entity. In 1899 the as-Sabah signed an agreement with Britain for British protection. In 1913, Turkey formally acknowledged Kuwait’s autonomous status.

After World War I, Turkish lands in the Middle East were divided up by Britain and France. They created new nation states and set their boundaries. That’s when and how modern Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan came to be.

To whom did Kuwait belong before the Anaiza tribe came? Was it vacant land or were other people living there? What was the basis for Ottoman sovereignty over the Middle East from 1517 to 1917? To whom does Kuwait belong now?

If you think that’s complicated, try searching the title to the land to the northwest. To whom does the Holy Land belong?

To the children of Abraham, because God promised it to him four thousand years ago? To the children of Jacob, heir of the promise? To descendants of other ancient peoples who lived there – Hittites, Phoenicians, Canaanites, Philistines, Ammonites, Jebusites, Moahites?

Is it the land of the Assyrians or the Babylonians, the conquerors of the ancient Israelite kingdoms? Of the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Seljuk Turks, Crusaders, Mamluks or Ottoman Turks that conquered the same land, each in turn?

On what basis did the League of Nations entrust Palestine to Britain in 1920? Or, the United Nations partition it in 1947? Or, Israel and Jordan rule it? Who have valid claims to that land now?

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Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA



Tags: Middle East Holy Land